Posted: 11/23/2011


A Dangerous Method

by Daniel Engelke

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In my last semester of college I was lucky enough to take a class on Freudian psychology. While the class gave me anxiety concerning the underlying motives of the human mind, it also educated me on the personal life of Sigmund Freud. Thankfully enough, it appears David Cronenberg also took a class on the iconic psychoanalyst.

A Dangerous Method tells the story of a love triangle between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and their patient Sabina Spielrein. Set on the eve of World War I, Sabina Spielrein is assigned to Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, for treatment. Timid yet attracted to anything violent, the doctor is surprised to discover Spielrein’s sickness is fueled by masochism. Heavily intrigued by Spielrein, Jung allows her to accompany him on psychoanalytic experiments, a subject she’s very interested in.

As their bond grows, so does an unconcious sense of attraction. The attraction is finally too much for either when one evening Jung appears at Spielrein’s door. The two engage in a night of masochistic lovemaking which seemingly cures Spielrein but begins an affair; an affair that could ruin Jung’s marriage and professional life.

Meanwhile, the Swiss pyschoanalyst has been informing his mentor in Vienna, Sigmund Freud, about Spielrein’s case. Eager to leave Switzerland to clear his head of the taboo relationship, Jung arranges a meeting to discuss the case and the future of psychoanalysis.

Jung is disappointed when Freud stubbornly rejects any new views of psychoanalysis. He decides to refrain from mentioning Spielrein. Depressed, the Swiss doctor decides he must return home to end the relationship with Spielrein and focus on research. When Jung reaches home he discovers his secret relationship isn’t as private as he had hoped.

I’ve never been a fan of Cronenberg’s older films (sorry World), but found a new appreciation with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. A Dangerous Method is a welcome continuation down that path. Cronenberg has been able to keep his edgy subject matter, but now appeals to a wider audience. This may disappoint the director’s older fans, but it shouldn’t. Not only has Cronenberg tightened his characte’s and stories, but he has managed to get the absolute best from his actors.

Coming off wonderful performances in Hunger and Inglorious Bastards, Michael Fassbender continues his hot streak in A Dangerous Method. His portrayal as Carl Jung is not only a strong choice for the film, but it also affirms his place as a truly powerful actor in mainstream cinema. Viggo Mortensen makes his third apperence with the director as Sigmund Freud. Though he only has a supporting role in the film, his character’s control is felt in each scene, even when he is not. Vincent Cassel also plays a bit part as the drug ridden patient of Jung, Otto Gross. His character is darkly comical and acts as a major catalyst in Jung and Spielrein’s romance. Truly a character any fan of the actor could appreciate.

Let’s talk about Keira Knightley. When I was flipping through my press notes, I halted at Knightley’s character description ” Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, a mentally ill Jewish woman.” I stopped there. Knowing the actress’s mediocre career, I feared for the worst. Thankfully I was wrong.

Knightley’s performance in A Dangerous Method is my personal favorite. She does the accent, mental illness, everything. By no means is she perfect, but her effort is unforgettable.

In the end A Dangerous Method is a dangerous gamble. Not terribly much actually occurs in the film, but I was still on the edge of my seat. For this, screen-and-playwright Christopher Hampton is to thank. He makes a high brow love triangle about psychoanalysis entertaining. Cronenberg does throw in his risque cinema by showing violent sex scenes between Jung and Spielrein. Yes, it does hit the same plateau as seeing Viggo Mortensen’s penis in Eastern Promises.

So I encourage you to see A Dangerous Method, but keep in mind, it is a love triangle about psychoanalysis.

Daniel Engelke works as a freelance writer and director in New York City. He graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Film. He specializes in Italian Neo-Realism and the French & German New Wave.

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